President Donald Trump and the GOP are pushing to reopen the economy ASAP amid the coronavirus—and they’re planning to mobilize a fleet of Trump-friendly doctors to help them out. The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Republican operatives are currently strategizing to put pro-Trump doctors on television to push the president’s reopening schedule, even as the Trump plan goes against the advice of the vast majority of the medical and public health communities. The doctors would go on television to “prescribe reviving the U.S. economy as quickly as possible, without waiting to meet safety benchmarks proposed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to slow the spread of the new coronavirus,” the AP reports.
The plan to put right-wing doctors on the air was reportedly discussed in a May 11 conference call organized by conservative advocacy group CNP Action with a senior Trump campaign staffer. “There is a coalition of doctors who are extremely pro-Trump that have been preparing and coming together for the war ahead in the campaign on health care,” GOP activist Nancy Schulze said on the call, saying she had given the campaign a list of 27 such physicians. American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp agreed with Schulze, saying it is “the critical juncture that we highlight” the GOP-approved medical voices. “The president’s going to get tagged by the fake news media as being irresponsible and not listening to doctors,” Schlapp said on the call. “And so we have to gird his loins with a lot of other people.” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh confirmed the planned initiative to the AP, though he would not specify when it would be rolled out. “All of our coalitions espouse policies and say things that are, of course, exactly simpatico with what the president believes,” Murtaugh said about CNP Action and what was said on the conference call. “The president has been outspoken about the fact that he wants to get the country back open as soon as possible.”
Trump’s view that the country should reopen immediately, of course, is not one shared by most public health experts and medical professionals outside of the Republican-approved list. (Or by the majority of the American public, for that matter.) The federal government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned Congress about the dangers of recklessly reopening during his Senate testimony last week, saying that if states reopen prematurely, the “consequences could be really serious.” “If you think we have it completely under control,” Fauci said about the coronavirus crisis, “we don’t.” But despite the fact that the vast majority of health experts are urging caution when it comes to reopening—and the science backs them up—the GOP’s planned injection of pro-Trump doctors into the television discourse could muddy the waters for an American public already unsure about how to live in the age of COVID-19. And that sense of perceived uncertainty could be incredibly dangerous. “I find it totally irresponsible to have physicians who are touting some information that’s not anchored in evidence and not anchored in science,” Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiology professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, told the AP about the GOP initiative. “What often creates confusion is the many voices that are out there, and many of those voices do have a political interest, which is the hugely dangerous situation we are at now.”
The GOP plan to weaponize doctors for political gain comes as Trump ramps up his own attempts to politicize the public health discourse, given that the COVID-19 narrative he’s clinging to isn’t in any way scientifically sound. One day after the president claimed to be taking hydroxychloroquine despite a lack of medical evidence suggesting its efficacy against COVID-19, Trump took aim at a prominent study showing that the unproven drug could be ineffective in fighting the virus and potentially lead to a higher risk of death. Because the study’s results didn’t match his own hyping of hydroxychloroquine, the president claimed that the study was no more than a political hit job against him personally—despite the fact that it was funded, in part, by the federal government’s own National Institutes of Health. (The study was one of several to suggest hydroxychloroquine isn’t effective in treating COVID-19, and despite the president’s optimism, the Food and Drug Administration notes that the drug has “not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19.” Due to the possibility of serious side effects, including potentially-fatal arrhythmia, the FDA directs that the drug should not be taken outside of a clinical trial or hospital setting.) After first calling the study a “Trump enemy statement,” the president later decried the study Tuesday as “phony” and “given by obviously not friends of the administration.” “The fact is, people should want to help people, not to make political points,” Trump said without a hint of irony. “It’s really sad when they do that.”
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